Health & Wellness

Nap time! Researchers say sleeping twice a day is good for you

It turns out when it comes to sleeping, we're like the new parent who enters from the other side of the carpool lane or the people who apply spray-on sunscreen on a windy day.

We're doing it wrong.

We should be sleeping twice a day in shorter chunks instead of one long block of tossing and turning through the night, according to a pair of Australian researchers.

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Melinda Jackson, a senior research fellow at Australia's RMIT University, and Siobhan Banks, a senior research fellow at the Centre for Sleep Research at the University of South Australia, find that having two separate sleep periods provides "two periods of increased activity, creativity and alertness across the day, rather than having a long wake period where sleepiness builds up across the day and productivity wanes."

The researchers also noted that having two sleep periods was once the norm at various points in history across the world.

They quoted a passage from the 1840 Charles Dickens novel "Barnaby Rudge" where a character refers to his "first sleep" — which presumably came before losing limbs to dangerous factory machinery and inhaling soot — and then taking a second nap.

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Sleeping in two separate blocks has precedent from the pre-industrial era through the 1800s, according to researchers.

Jackson and Banks believe the Spaniards are on to something with their traditional siesta, a two- to three-hour lunch break taken at 2 p.m. typically used for a nap.

Our body clock naturally lends itself to the siesta because of a reduction in alertness in the early afternoon, which is also probably why there was a national uproar when Spain's prime minister announced in April that he wants to put an end to siestas.

RELATED: A call to all Americans: Why we should — nay, must! — adopt Spain's siesta

They cited a 1990 study by psychiatrist Thomas Wehr that found that "bi-phasic sleep," which is a science-y phrase for two separate four-hour blocks of sleep, is "a natural process with a biological basis."

That whole "get 8 hours of sleep every night" thing? Wrong, says a pair of Australian researchers.

While the benefits of a split sleep schedule also include allowing more flexibility with work and family time, reducing the instances of insomnia, serving as an alternative to night shift work, and increasing alertness, there are some downsides, according to the researchers.

Namely, telling your boss you want to take a three-hour nap in the middle of the day instead of closing the Heffernan account doesn't usually go over too well in most American workplaces.

Plus, the timing has to be right for each sleep session in order to fall asleep quickly and stay asleep, so just flopping onto a bed or couch at two random times during the day won't necessarily produce positive results.

RELATED: Are you an elite sleeper? Why some people are healthy with 4 or 5 hours of sleep

Some businesses have gotten on board with sleeping during the day, as nap rooms are becoming more common in offices across the country. Huffington Post founder and president Arianna Huffington has also championed the cause of workplace napping.

"Sleep makes us more productive, creative, less stressed and much healthier and happier,'' she told TODAY. "Even a 20-minute nap in the middle of the day can make a huge difference. I grew up thinking that if you work around the clock, you are going to be more effective, and I realize that is not true.''

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Why sleeping on the job may be ideal: Arianna Huffington's 'sleep revolution'

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Why sleeping on the job may be ideal: Arianna Huffington's 'sleep revolution'

Play Video - 4:47

Follow writer Scott Stump on Twitter.